• Rand Bishop


In 1970, having just turned 21, I was pretty pumped up about entering a Las Vegas casino legally for the first time. However, when I approached the entrance to Circus Circus, a security guard blocked me at the door. Why? My offense was a four-by-six-inch beaded replica of the American flag, an artful patch my girlfriend created to mend the threadbare thigh of my bell-bottomed jeans. Vietnam was in flames and President Nixon’s “Silent Majority” was no longer silent. Their vitriolic chant directed at peace-loving, long-haired hippies like me was, “America… Love it or Leave it!” And, to them, wearing any replica of Old Glory on one’s clothing was deemed disrespectful, even unpatriotic.

How times have changed. In the half century since my undignified bum rush from that casino, flag apparel and paraphernalia have become commonplace — particularly around Independence Day. And, the same folks who would have denied me entrance to Circus Circus in ‘71 for displaying the flag on my pant leg now consider adorning themselves with the stars and stripes an act of ultra-patriotism. And, demonstrating their loyalty to the red, white, and blue doesn’t stop with skirts, shirts, and caps. They further reinforce their love for the USA by spilling ketchup on American-flag table cloths, wiping barbecue sauce off their mouths with American-flag napkins, and swilling Sunny D from paper American-flag cups.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against the flag or Americans who display it, wave it, wear it, or wipe their mouths on it. My problem is that so many who display, wave, or wear it these days have hijacked its original, true meaning. Although they still call it the American flag, in their minds, the stars and stripes no longer represent “We the People” as a whole. They’ve simply appropriated Old Glory as the sole property and symbol of the Grand Old Party.

“He’s going to have tanks out there. It’s going to be cool,” joked one RNC fundraiser, after receiving free VIP tickets to President Donald J. Trump’s 2019 Independence Day rally on the National Mall. As of July 4, 2019, one certain political party will have absconded with the last square inch of our star-spangled banner.

America’s founding fathers were revolutionaries who crossed an ocean to flee authoritarian oppression and participate in a noble experiment in liberty and self-determination. They bridled at the long-held assumption that the authority of kings and queens should go unquestioned and unchallenged. They decried the automatic passage of ultimate power from one supposedly heavenly ordained “royal” generation to the next. Instead, they declared that “all men are created equal,” and that the citizenry should determine its governmental representatives by a majority vote. (Of course, in 1776, “all men” mean white, male property owners. But, theirs was most definitely a bold move away from centuries of entrenched monarchy.)

Most of those white, male, property owners who declared our independence and co-authored our Constitution were not Christians. Still, they fought for the rights of all Christian sects to worship without fear of persecution. And, while giving people of all Christian denominations these unalienable rights, they also saw fit to offer the same autonomy to people of every religious faith. To them, the cloth stitched by Betsy Ross didn’t represent one, myopic way of thinking. Ross’s flag stood for every American’s freedom to think for his- or herself, to express those thoughts and opinions in any manner that stopped short of doing harm to another person.

But, as the cross has been minimized by certain Christian sects to represent a brand of religiosity that Christ Himself would scarcely recognize, let alone condone, the stars and stripes have been reduced by self-described conservatives to symbolize a single, rigid set of ideas that have scant resemblance to what our nation’s architects envisioned. This narrow view of patriotism provides no room for the revolutionary spirit that inspired our independence in the first place. I strongly suspect that, if the founders were speaking their minds today, today’s flag wavers would condemn them as heretical traitors.

It’s not such a far stretch to imagine our current president declaring, “If Jefferson and Hamilton and their bunch of extremists are not happy here in the U.S.A., maybe they should go back to the broken government they left behind.”


The truth is this… those who continue to resist authoritarianism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia are not the extremists. The actual extremists are those who kowtow and acquiesce to a man who would be king — if it were allowed under that Constitution those founding revolutionaries so sagely authored.

Is it possible that seeking the truth and speaking out has become treasonous, while spouting hatred for those legally seeking asylum within our hallowed borders is acceptable, even encouraged by our elected representatives? We now live in a nation in which heeding the repeated warnings of scientists, driving a hybrid or all-electric vehicle, recycling, using clean renewable energy, even supporting public broadcasting have been branded by flag wavers as un-American activities.

“This is our America,” declared Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. “We will never give up the hallowed ground of patriotism to the extremists… at the state house or at the White House.”

Like you, Senator Brown, I’m a progressive who cares deeply about healing this fractured nation. This land is your land. This land is my land. And, I want my flag back.

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